Saturday, May 15, 2010

Saturday’s reflections

I’ve moved from Seattle to Boulder for a few days, attending the Heart Rhythm Society conference at the Denver Convention Center.  It’s the major show for doctors who treat arrhythmic disorders of the heart, and it’s been fun catching up with the science and with colleagues.

The Wall Street Journal greeted me with an editorial column that reinforce my comments on the negative implications that “European Style” carries in the US.  Titled “The We’re-Not-Europe” Party, it focuses on lessons of the Greek fiscal crisis:

For Americans, this has been a two-week cram course in what not to be if you hope to have a vibrant future. What was once an unfocused criticism of Mr. Obama and the Democrats, that they are nudging America toward a European-style social-market economy, came to awful life in the panicked, stricken faces of Europe's leadership.

It concludes “the American people (should) avoid and oppose any policy that makes us more like them and less like us.”  Yike.

There are things that I like and things that I don’t about living in Europe, but its been, overall, a place that works on a daily basis, a society with better balance in life, an economy that is capable of significant technical and social innovation, even if business interests have to be subordinate to national interests. It isn’t anarchy or decay; it isn’t, really, socialism.  Its a pity that the pundits and politicians, stretching to make a point, distort the reality so badly.

Beyond that, a typical week back in the US, noticing the usual differences:

  • How few people smoke (or ride bikes)
  • How quick evening meals are: half the time of the European repast (and in quantity)
  • How shallow the news is, whether print or television
  • How big the vegetable sections of the supermarkets are
  • How cheap the gas (still) is
  • How much noise the Republicans (still) make about nothing (and who, besides the media, is still listening?)
  • How people think that the economy has turned the corner (although their own situation hasn’t)
  • How car navigation systems are still a novelty (even though the amount of driving is vastly greater)
  • How people are increasingly concluding that the stock market is rigged (especially after the 1000 point drop and rebound, a sense that oops, you weren’t supposed to see that…)
  • How much people dislike BP and distrust what it’s doing to cap the week (although a poll shows that Goldman Sachs is still only half as popular as BP)

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Accessing overseas media content

The Internet does a great job of keeping me connected to family and friends across the world.  However, efforts to connect with various national media, from iPlayer to Hulu, run up against a brick wall of parochial indignation.Message I’ve worked through to a good solution (finally), and wanted to offer a brief tutorial to how to access these media sources from outside the country.

Disclaimer:  This post is a result of my own research and experiences, and I pay full retail price for the product that I discuss here.  I have not asked for nor accepted any compensation, and am not endorsing this product in preference to others that might work equally well.

Okay, overseas media sources block your access by recognizing the geographic origin of your IP address.  I experimented with masking and anonymizing my address, but without success.

The solution is to set up a proxy server using a computer which is in the target country (for example, in the UK if you want to access iPlayer content).  When I want to watch local streaming media, the proxy mediate my web sessions and my geographic location becomes that of the proxy server.proxy (2)

The steps are:

  • Establish a PayPal account, if you don’t already have one.

As Wired recently observed, PayPal is becoming the medium for many innovative web-based transactions, and it’s easy and safe to use. I set up my account using a credit card, without giving bank account details or depositing money in advance.  The approval process takes a couple of days while they verified my address and sent a test micropayment to my card, but it’s transparent once it’s running (sort of another form of proxy).

  • Create an account with a proxy hosting service.

I used Proxz; they have a fast and reliable service and cover a wide range of geographies.  There is a recurring  charge of $25 per three-month interval.  The service gave me a few free days before the first billing so that I could test the service myself.

Once registered, the proxy service emailed me a unique IP address and login information for my account.

  • Configure a dedicated browser.

I use Mozilla as my default browser, so I configured IE to handle my proxy sessions.  This assures that my general traffic (including bank account sessions) don’t flow through the proxy server where they might be skimmed.

In IE, open Tools, Internet Options, Connections, and open LAN Settings.  I enter the IP address and port number for my proxy connection, then Save the settings and restart IE.

IE asks for the username and password, which I ask it to remember.  The browser then opens normally.

  • Access the local media content.

I set the media location as my browser’s homepage so that I remember that I dedicated IE to that purpose.  Otherwise, it all works as though I was in the UK and the proxy is transparent as I use the browser.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

From here to there

I’m slowly making the adjustment, getting my mind out off the space of the British village of Barrington (left) and into the Pacific Northwest village of Woodinville (right).






Okay, maybe not so much of a stretch.

Apart from the scenery (and the language), though, there are real changes that I always notice throughout the daily pace and balance of life.  Drivers are more aggressive in the US, although it might be just that the vehicles are so much bigger.  The price of gas is well below the magic $4/gal (0.75 euro per liter) threshold where Americans change their driving habits, so I suppose it’s no surprise that there are still so many Ram Chargers and Suburbans on the road.

I’ve made the rounds of the shopping and the medical services, provisioning the closet, kitchen, and medicine cabinet back home.  There’s just nothing back in the Netherlands to compare to a Costco: vast selection / low bulk pricing.  The suitcase is stuffed; It’s funny what I end up missing.

People’s hot questions this trip concern the effect of Greek financial troubles on the euro.  Will they default, how low will the euro go, are there lessons for the US.  It was a bit surprising, i thought the questions would be about the UK elections (zero local interest in that) or the summer vacation season (less than zero interest).

I’m not sure why it’s bubbled up so high.  The news shows blame the recent gyrations in the stock market on uncertainty about the euro.  Conservative talk show hosts proclaim it a cautionary example of where Obama is taking the country (‘Are they unionists or socialists?’), Business interests are eying the prospects for improving exports (bad: a weak euro makes US goods more expensive, and Europeans don’t have savings or wages to buy luxury goods).

This trip was to be with my daughter for her foot surgery, a variation on my procedure last summer.  She had it done at Children’s Hospital, a wonderful facility north of the city which does wonderful work on the wide spectrum of pediatric illnesses and inherited disorders.  A much more maternal facility than the hard-charging adult centers I frequent, it is delightfully furnished and thoroughly equipped using local philanthropy from the Gates Foundation and others.  (Insert reflections on public / private health care systems here: I’m still sorting my feelings)

The surgery was done yesterday morning, and she came through fine. She popped out high-fiving the nurse that she hadn’t died: the delightful side of operative narcotics.  She was thoroughly sick for the next twelve hours, though.  The drugs giveth; the drugs taketh.